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Miracles Ain't What They Used to Be (Outspoken Authors) Paperback – July 1, 2016
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“A fresh discovery, three decades in the making!” —New York Times
“Very Texan, very American, very funny—and a stone brilliant writer.” —James Sallis, author of Drive
“Reading Joe R. Lansdale is like listening to a favorite uncle who just happens to be a fabulous storyteller.” —Dean Koontz
“Lansdale is one of those very rare authors who can have his readers howling with laughter during one sentence while bringing tear to their eyes with the next.” —BookReporter
“Like gold standard writers Elmore Leonard and the late Donald Westlake, Joe R. Lansdale is one of the more versatile writers in America.” —Los Angeles Times
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“That’s How You Clean a Squirrel”—Terry Bisson clearly knows Lansdale’s body of work, and this engaging interview ranges from the mundane (“What type of car do you drive?”), the mechanical (“How do you schedule time to write?”) to the meaningful (“Are all Southerners born storytellers?”, “Why are you so rough on religion”).
“The Parable of the Stick” – A conversation between series characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine about self-defense and violence, with a story-within-a-story about Hap’s encounter with a grade school bully. Somewhat “talky” but continues to develop themes from the novels.
“Apollo Red”—This story may be fiction or 100% autobiography, I can’t tell. Either way, it is an interesting account of the author’s father defending himself with force against a customer who did not want to pay his bill.
“Short Night”—Another young Hap Collins short story. Hap is propositioned for love twice on the same night. This story does not really go anywhere or add much to Hap’s backstory.
“Darkness in the East” – An impassioned explanation of the subgenre Lansdale created—East Texas Noir. I would dare anyone who has never discovered JRL to first read this essay, and then try to resist the temptation to pick up one of his novels.
“Doggone Justice” and “The Day Before the Day After” were my favorite pieces. They can almost be considered two halves of a single essay detailing prominent events in Lansdale’s early childhood that have repeatedly cropped up in his fiction: seeing his first dog beaten near to death by a neighbor, the drive-in theater across the road from his house, playing in a junkyard, and escaping a tornado in a bomb shelter.
“Dark Inspiration”—A tribute to the profound effect Edgar Allan Poe had on Lansdale’s professional and personal life.
“The Drowned Man”—Lansdale recounts his early career choices and how a chance encounter with a corpse convinced him to finally get off his butt and pursue the writing life.
THE TITLE ESSAY:
“Miracles Ain’t What They Used to Be” is the heart of this collection. Lansdale throws down the gauntlet in an acerbic, rapid-fire denunciation of religion. It is the Southern version of an atheist manifesto. The author lobs a barrage of arguments against the existence of God, sprinkled with a mix of straw-men—usually gun-toting redneck Baptist hypocrites—to illustrate his points. It is controversial, but you do not have to agree with him to appreciate the humor and insight.
Lansdale offers a litany of well-worn arguments: Science has proven the world to be billions of years old. Noah’s ark is an impossible fairy tale. The Bible has been altered over the years by imaginative scribes. No one has seen a real miracle like an amputee growing back an arm. Old Testament laws make no sense. A just deity could not send good people to Hell for unbelief, but forgive child murderers who repent.
These points are all worthy of discussion, but Lansdale is offering a rant, not a scholarly discourse. Still, when an author makes the statement “I have no respect for any religion,” it is impossible not to squirm. It shows a shocking lack of awareness of the sweep of history. No one can discount all religions past and present or all believers as East Texas hillbillies.
Perhaps at the least Lansdale could acknowledge the contributions of the monotheistic religions— Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—to every facet of modern life: the sciences, the arts, politics, medicine, mathematics, social work, philanthropy, astronomy, biology, child-rearing, etc. He should read Dr. James Kennedy’s What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? to understand how the teachings of Judaism and Christianity have forever altered the world for its betterment.
I have no problem with anyone espousing atheism, if that is what they believe, but a good essay should not just be funny; it should reflect a balanced, truthful view of history, society, and the world around us.
Lansdale might be best known for his Hap and Leonard novels but he is far broader in topics than those two fine gentlemen. In this book, a reader gets a glimpse into what makes up Lansdale.
I enjoyed the stories (ok, the title story wasn't my cup of tea, but that is ok) and it made me look forward to reading more of his work. This is a short book and the pages glide by effortlessly.